I knew this day would come. Huddled under the covers with her favorite pink teddy bear, while in-between stories about faraway lands and enchanted princesses, she turns her whole self away from me and asks: “Mommy, who’s my daddy?”
Oh God, not that. Anything but that.
I think about the perfect portrayal of Prince Charming in the book we just read and I wish I had my own fairy godmother here right now to wave her magic wand and poof–give me all the right answers.
How do you tell a little girl who hasn’t seen her father in over three years that the man she wouldn’t recognize if she met him on the street lives only 15 minutes away? How do you describe the guy who locked his own child out of his home, changed the locks and never looked back?
You describe someone else, an airbrushed version of the man you once loved whom you hope to God you’ll never see again.
“Well,” I begin slowly, “Your daddy is someone who loves you very, very much. He–”
“What’s his name?”
I tell her. She giggles nervously and repeats the unfamiliar name, letting the word roll awkwardly off her tongue. I smile and tell her how happy I am that she’s speaking to me about him, and that she can always ask me any questions she has about her daddy.
I mean every word, but what I don’t tell my daughter is that I don’t consider her father a father at all.
That word, that title, belongs to the person who raises his child, the person who holds her when she’s sick or hurt or embarrassed or sad. A father drives his daughter to school and to ballet, picks her up from play dates and makes jokes in front of her friends. It belongs to the person who wakes up in middle of the night because her child had a bad dream. It belongs to the person who cleans up her vomit and wipes away her tears. It belongs to the person who would never ever leave.
A father is in his child’s life no matter what happened between her mother and him.
A father never leaves.
People occasionally ask me where her dad is, and I want to tell them that her dad is right here, raising her, loving her, as any parent would.
Because I am my daughter’s mother, yes, but I am also her father.
I am her father when I dig the car out of the snow (over and over and over again) and I am her father every time I get an oil change or pay the bills or go to PTA and school functions alone.
I am her father when we are on vacation (first one in years) and I stay with her in the hotel room after she’s fallen asleep, completely sunburned and in terrible pain, instead of getting Aloe Vera from the nearby pharmacy because I will not wake her up to go the store.
I am her father when, later that night, we do walk together to the closest Walgreen’s at 1 a.m., because this time, she is the one who is sunburned and there is no one else with us who can get it for her.
I am her father when I make choices like: Should I take on a third job so I can maybe afford rent, or stay living rent-free in my parents’ home so that I can be with her (not a babysitter) every afternoon after school? Choices like: Do I go out tonight to work after she’s asleep, make another $30, or is it not worth it after paying for gas and finding a parking spot at 1 a.m.?
Screw definition. Screw the word father, screw the word mother. Screw the neat little boxes these words are supposed to fit in. I am her mother and I am her father, and I won’t let the person who chose not to know her exquisite soul and beautiful mind take that title away from me.
I am hers, and she is mine. That’s all the definition we need.